1940s radio series producer Grace Gibson leans on a table with pages of a script while four white men in plain shirts and ties and a woman wearing a floral-patterned dress look on
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Radio series

Drama and comedy from Australian radio's golden age

Drama and comedy from radio's golden age

It is hard to imagine now just how big radio was in the period before television arrived. This collection gives a taste of the wide variety of genres of radio series that Australian audiences enjoyed. 

It brings together excerpts from Australian radio dramas and comedies, principally dating from the 1930s to the 1950s – a golden age for radio.

You can listen to an Australian incarnation of Superman (voiced by Leonard Teale), follow criminal case files from the Victorian police in D24 and hear future Oscar-winning actor Peter Finch cut his teeth in dramas and soap operas like Mutiny of the Bounty and Random House.

Other examples were squarely aimed at regional and rural audiences – including the long-running Blue Hills and Dad and Dave.

Learn more about the pioneering women producers, writers and stars who worked on these programs like Grace Gibson, Dorothy Crawford, Lynn Foster, Queenie Ashton, Ethel Lang and Amber Mae Cecil.

You can also listen to radio horror and thriller serials of the 1940s and '50s.

Main image: Radio producer Grace Gibson (far right) with actors Marshall Crosby, Nellie Lamport, Howard Craven, Nigel Lovell and Warwick Ritchie, c1944. NFSA title: 359204

Superman, 1949
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
143363
Year:
Year

This American-inspired Superman adventure radio series for children was locally made and starred Brisbane native Leonard Teale as Superman and Margaret Christensen as Lois Lane.

We've uploaded episodes 1 and 2 to our SoundCloud page and you can listen to them here.

Teale is best remembered for his performance in the long-running television series Homicide (1964–77). At least 1,040 of the 15-minute episodes were produced and broadcast between 1949 and 1954 on radio station 2GB. 

The following news story was published in The Standard on 10 March 1949:

'Superman, the recently-acquired AW 6 o’clocker, not only makes a better radio serial than a newspaper strip, but it is also more healthy for children than most of the serials currently broadcast. Of course, our magnetic friend, Clark Kent, still performs miracles, but then you expect that sort of thing in Superman, and it merely seems part of the fun. It is also so fantastic as to present no worry to mothers with sensitive youngsters.'

D24 – radio crime drama
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
452172
Courtesy:
Crawford Productions Pty Ltd
Year:
Year

Excerpt from a 1951 episode of popular crime series D24 (1951–60).

The Crawfords-produced crime series D24 was based on files from the Victorian Police Force, who sponsored the first two years of production costs and studio time.

This series was later transformed into the successful television series Homicide.

Theme from Blue Hills by New Century Orchestra, 1949
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
503205
Year:
Year

This is the theme music and opening announcement from the long-running ABC radio drama Blue Hills (1949–76).

Summary by Matthew Davies

Dad and Dave from Snake Gully by the George Edwards Players
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
737158
Year:
Year

Dad (George Edwards) and Dave (John Saul) discuss Dave’s hope to marry Mabel, as Dad examines the farm’s finances. Money is too tight for Dad to offer his son a house, which would allow Dave to ask Mabel to marry him. Dave tries to fix the clock, with disastrous consequences.

Summary by Paul Byrnes

The Grand Parade: Dubbo
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
415949
Year:
Year

An excerpt from the dramatised radio series The Grand Parade, funded and produced by the Rural Bank of NSW.

This extract from a 1939 episode relates to Dubbo, with the opening announcement linking the series to Sydney’s Royal Easter Show, an annual event that still brings many NSW rural communities together to celebrate their achievements.

Each episode of The Grand Parade narrated the development of a country town in NSW, interspersed with dramatised scenes of explorers and founding families.

Learn more about regional radio dramas by the Rural Bank of NSW.

Image: Dubbo Court House, 2022, by Kgbo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence. 

Peter Finch in Mutiny of the Bounty – Episode 1, 1938
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
508815
Year:
Year

The Australian radio series, Mutiny on the Bounty (also known as Mutiny of the Bounty), was written by Anthony Scott Veitch and featured members of the Broadcasting Service Association Players.

Episode One, excerpted here,  features a lot of exposition but gives Peter Finch, playing James Morrison the boatswain’s mate, the opportunity to 'talk like a gentleman’.

When this recording was made Finch was 22 and it is difficult to recognise the distinctive warm tones of his voice which are evident in later recordings.

In comparison with the other unidentified cast member his performance appears to be understated, but his tone still conveys his excitement in joining the crew for a voyage to Tahiti.

Yes, What? Episode 240: The Visit of the School Inspector by 5AD, Rex Dawe and cast
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
143364
Courtesy:
Swan Television and Wireless Broadcasters and Grace Gibson Productions
Year:
Year

Few Australian radio serials have had the enduring popularity of Yes, What?.

A total of 520 episodes were broadcast on Adelaide radio station 5AD with the first going to air on 23 June 1936 and continuing until December 1940.

Originally titled The Fourth Form at St Percy’s, it was based on an English radio series called, The Fourth Form at St Michael’s.

The show was written and produced by, and starred, Adelaide lawyer and actor Rex ‘Waca’ Dawe who played the Headmaster of St Percy’s with a small number of other cast members playing his students in the Fourth Form.

The series was being broadcast nationally by 1938 and 300 episodes are still available through Grace Gibson Productions for broadcast on commercial stations.

Sony released CD box sets of the serial in the 2000s.

The Adventure of the Singing Bullet by Smoky Dawson
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
281755
Year:
Year

This clip is from the start of Smoky Dawson and the Singing Bullet. In this episode, Young Billy (Ray Hartley) is kidnapped by Crogan and Gilmore, Smoky’s old enemies. They take him to an isolated hut to lure Smoky (Smoky Dawson) into a trap, but Smoky is too wily. He foils their plot with a song and a singing bullet, fired from a gun built into his guitar.

Summary by Paul Byrnes

Extract from Night Beat episode 4 – Grace Gibson Productions

This is an extract from episode 4 of the radio crime drama Nightbeat, by Grace Gibson Productions.

The original typed script accompanies the audio.

Cast: Alan White (Randy Stone)

In 1934, Texas-born Grace Gibson was brought to Australia by Sydney radio station 2GB’s general manager, AE Bennett, to help sell American radio programs within Australia. Within ten years she had formed Grace Gibson Radio Productions, one of the most successful radio production companies in the world.

Gibson’s company specialised in soap operas and serials, ranging from long-running family dramas Dr Paul and Portia Faces Life, to crime serials Night Beat and Dossier on Dumetrius.

Scripts were often imported from the United States and adapted for Australian audiences, produced using local actors and then syndicated to radio stations across Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong and Canada. Many shows were so popular that they were still produced for up to 14 years after the original American scripts ran out, employing local writers to take over.

When Gibson sold the business in 1978, Grace Gibson Productions had produced and sold around 40,000 quarter-hour episodes.

The Red Terror, 1944
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
80685
Year:
Year

The Red Terror is a dramatised radio program that launched on northern NSW radio stations in 1939 and warned of the dangers of bushfires.

In this dramatic clip, excerpted from a 1944 episode, Jack and Martha prepare to flee their farm as a raging fire approaches. 

Each five-minute episode in the 26-part series staged debates about firefighting and fire prevention between a cast of entirely fictitious characters, pre-empting the ABC’s rural dramas The Lawsons (c1944–49) and Blue Hills (1949–76) by several years.

None of the early episodes of Red Terror has survived, but the NFSA collection holds one episode from 1944, from which this clip is taken.

Read more about regional radio dramas of the 1930s and 1940s.

Rogues Gallery episode 1: Captain Moonlite
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
484172
Year:
Year

The Rogues Gallery radio serial consisted of portraits of famous scoundrels and was produced by Dorothy Crawford.

This Captain Moonlite episode was written by Rex Rienits, who was a journalist before becoming one of the leading radio writers in Australia.

Dorothy Crawford not only excelled as a radio drama producer, but was also a pioneer in the production of Australian television drama. Known within the industry as a hard taskmaster, Crawford was respected for her knowledge and attention to detail.

As co-founder of Crawford Productions she made a significant contribution to the success of the company, which not only dominated radio production in Melbourne, but was one of the few independent production companies to successfully transition from radio to television in Australia.

Agricultural Magazine of the Air: clip 1
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
567731
Year:
Year

The Rural Bank of NSW’s Agricultural Magazine of the Air ran on 17 New South Wales commercial stations in 1939, and was still on air in the 1950s.

Post the Second World War, it actively promoted ideas of progressive farming by sending Australian farmers to the USA and approaching the BBC for talks on new approaches to agriculture overseas.

Ideas of progress were also part of an episode, this clip ostensibly promoting play reading as a leisure activity for rural families.

Agricultural Magazine of the Air: clip 2
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
567731
Year:
Year

This is an excerpt from the Rural Bank of NSW’s Agricultural Magazine of the Air , which ran on 17 New South Wales commercial stations in 1939 and was still on air in the 1950s.

The program actively promoted ideas of progressive farming by sending Australian farmers to the USA and approaching the BBC for talks on new approaches to agriculture overseas.

This is an excerpt from an episode that promoted play reading as a leisure activity for rural families. 

It can hardly have been by chance that the play used as an example in this program was Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (1882), a searing social commentary in which a town turns against the local doctor when he attempts to reveal how polluted its popular spring water has become. 

The narrator of the radio program used the message of the play to urge that change be accepted by rural Australians, as can be heard in this clip.

Castlereagh Line - Grace Gibson Productions radio serial
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
601236
Courtesy:
Grace Gibson Productions
Year:
Year

This is an extract from the 1980s radio serial Castlereagh Line, by Grace Gibson Productions.

Contributors: Ross Napier (AUT), Grace Gibson Productions (PDC).
Cast: Ric Hutton, Wynne Nelson, Deryk Barnes.
Summary: Set in 1880, The Castlereagh Line commences with the establishment of a Coach Line in northern New South Wales.

In 1934, Texas-born Grace Gibson was brought to Australia by Sydney radio station 2GB’s general manager, AE Bennett, to help sell American radio programs within Australia. Within ten years she had formed Grace Gibson Radio Productions, one of the most successful radio production companies in the world.

Gibson’s company specialised in soap operas and serials, ranging from long-running family dramas Dr Paul and Portia Faces Life, to crime serials Night Beat and Dossier on Dumetrius.

Scripts were often imported from the United States and adapted for Australian audiences, produced using local actors and then syndicated to radio stations across Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong and Canada. Many shows were so popular that they were still produced for up to 14 years after the original American scripts ran out, employing local writers to take over.

When Gibson sold the business in 1978, Grace Gibson Productions had produced and sold around 40,000 quarter-hour episodes.

 

There is No Armour – radio serial by Lynn Foster, 1939
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
195608
Year:
Year

The 1939 play There is No Armour was written by Lynn Foster and performed at the Independent Theatre in Sydney.

It was adapted for radio and published in 1945.

Born in Sydney in 1914, Foster was an important pioneer in the radio industry, being the first woman in Australia to direct a major radio serial on a national network, as well as the first to write and direct one.

Peter Finch in Random House – Episode 29, 1949
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1483033
Year:
Year

Art imitates life in one of the final episodes of Random House, an Australian radio drama about the Random family.

In this scene, Finch –  playing the role of the son Michael – hesitantly breaks the news to his parents, played by Nancye Stewart and Kevin Gunn, that he has been summoned to England by Sir Staunton Croft with his passage booked to London on the Archimedes.

This plot device reflects or foretells Finch’s own journey to England to further his acting career.

In his characteristic naturalistic style, the warmth of Finch’s voice brings to life the delicacy of family communication in regard to a life-changing decision.

Extract from Night Beat episode 7 – Grace Gibson Productions, 1946
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
205962
Courtesy:
Grace Gibson Productions
Year:
Year

This is an extract from episode 7 of the 1940s radio crime drama Nightbeat, by Grace Gibson Productions.

Contributors: Howard Craven (NRT), Ross Napier (SCR), Ron Ingleby (SCR), Lawrence H Cecil (PDR).
Cast: Alan White (Randy Stone)

In 1934, Texas-born Grace Gibson was brought to Australia by Sydney radio station 2GB’s general manager, AE Bennett, to help sell American radio programs within Australia. Within ten years she had formed Grace Gibson Radio Productions, one of the most successful radio production companies in the world.

Gibson’s company specialised in soap operas and serials, ranging from long-running family dramas Dr Paul and Portia Faces Life, to crime serials Night Beat and Dossier on Dumetrius.

Scripts were often imported from the United States and adapted for Australian audiences, produced using local actors and then syndicated to radio stations across Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong and Canada. Many shows were so popular that they were still produced for up to 14 years after the original American scripts ran out, employing local writers to take over.

When Gibson sold the business in 1978, Grace Gibson Productions had produced and sold around 40,000 quarter-hour episodes.

The Grand Parade: Quirindi
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
415950
Year:
Year

An excerpt from the dramatised radio series The Grand Parade, funded and produced by the Rural Bank of NSW.

Each episode narrated the development of a country town in NSW, interspersed with dramatised scenes of explorers and founding families.

This extract from a 1939 episode relates to Quirindi.

Learn more about regional radio dramas by the Rural Bank of NSW.

Image: Quirindi Heritage Motel, 2015, by Mattinbgn, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence.